Personal playground now major motorsport venueBy Dave Lewandowski
Published: Apr 6, 2015
A poster of the periodic table in Dr. Laney Chouest’s modest office at NOLA Motorsports Park is a symbol of information, which the business magnate/entrepreneur/former family practitioner sees as the key to the facility he founded and developed hosting a Verizon IndyCar Series race.
Such a concept wasn’t his original intent, but when the idea was broached back in 2012 he didn’t immediately discount count it either. The big-picture Louisianan saw an opportunity to showcase the state and the 750-acre facility that sprung up on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about 15 miles from Downtown New Orleans, to satisfy one man’s penchant for driving fast without getting a ticket.
He just needed to collect information, complete his due diligence, much like his family's offshore oil and gas exploration company. This weekend, NOLA Motorsports Park will host the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana (2:30 p.m. ET April 12, NBCSN).
“The whole track process some people have said is somewhere between visionary and nutty guy with an obsession. We’ll let people decide, especially when they visit the facility,” Chouest said.
The 2.74-mile, 13-turn course, which was designed by Alan Wilson – also the architect of Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and Miller Motorsports Park in Utah – and opened in 2011, has provided Sundays of sanctuary for men and women with driving memberships.
Operational growth followed with regular team-building and car manufacturer events, a safe driving program and karting competitions on a separate serpentine course.
“I picked up high-performance driving as a hobby when I was 40 years old and I really enjoyed it,” said Chouest, 60. “I was looking for a facility because there was no facility nearby where I could do safe high-performance driving. Where can I do this within 30 minutes from downtown New Orleans?
“I started by calling the economic development entities of five regional parishes and talking to real estate people. I started looking for 200 to 300 acres and ended up with about 750. I didn’t have any commercial thoughts. There were more than a couple of people who asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ’’
A similar refrain could be heard after the August 2014 announcement that NOLA Motorsports Park would host a major motorsports event within a year.
Chouest is unabated. Through a public/private partnership with the State of Louisiana, which contributed $4.5 million, and Chouest spending $3 million-plus in addition to the estimated $70 million initial investment, the event will draw tens of thousands of spectators, many of whom will witness the speed and excitement of the Verizon IndyCar Series for the first time.
“We like to say, ‘We’re not bringing the race to New Orleans but bringing New Orleans to the race,’ ’’ Chouest said. “Our location is the only (road course) that is this close to a convention destination center. We’re unique.”